When couples separate, it is often a difficult and emotionally draining time for all those involved. One often challenging consideration is determining the future care arrangements that will best meet their children’s needs.
Most parents can cooperate and agree on parenting arrangements outside the legal system. Solutions reached in this way are usually better than decisions imposed by a court. If parents can reach agreement, there are two options, namely:
A parenting plan is a written agreement between parties, signed and dated by both parties which deal with the care, welfare and development of a child. A parenting plan can deal with any of the following topics:
- Who the child lives with;
- The time the child spends with the other parent;
- Arrangements for special days such as birthdays, holidays and Christmas;
- The communication the child is to have with each parent;
- The form of consultations between parents and how they will make decision together; and
- The process to be used for resolving disputes about the operation of the parenting plan.
Parenting plans are a less formal way of recording an agreement, are more flexible and can be changed at any time upon a subsequent and signed parenting plan being made by parties.
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable. If one party breaches the terms of a parenting plan, they are not breaking the law. However, if the case goes to court, a parenting plan can be relevant and the court will consider the terms of the parenting plan, and the reasons for breaching it.
Parties can also lodge an application for consent orders in the Family Court. This is done by lodging documents to the court for approval by a Registrar, and if the terms of the agreement are considered to be in the best interests of the children then the court will go on to make the agreement into consent orders.
Consent orders are legally enforceable. If you breach the terms of a parenting order without a reasonable excuse, you are breaking the law and penalties may apply including fines, a bond or even imprisonment.
Which option is best for me?
Every family dynamic is unique and different. There is no one size fits all.
There are advantages to both options. Generally, there is more flexibility with parenting plans. If parties can communicate freely, compromise, adapt to different situations and are able to focus on their children’s best interests but are wanting some structure in their co-parenting relationship, then a parenting plan may be considered. Consent orders on the other hand are legally enforceable, create binding obligations and may serve as a deterrent for breaching an agreement, in addition to providing a procedure for enforcement or consequences, if breached without good reason.
Deciding which option would best suit your circumstances is often a difficult task, and you may benefit from some advice and guidance from one of our experienced family lawyers.
At Farrell Family Lawyers, we understand the sensitive and delicate nature of parenting issues and are dedicated to tailoring our advice to meet the needs of each family. To schedule an appointment with one of our team, please contact us by telephone on 03 8393 0144 or email [email protected].